Much Ado About Nothing

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Stratford-upon-Avon's second best-known public figure is dead.

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  1. That guy was so cool.

  2. A joke that was going around in Australia ca. 1963

    A: hey, didj’ear Christine Keeler committed suicide?

    B: No, when?

    A: I dunno, but I ‘eard they found ‘er under an English pier(peer).

  3. It’s “second-best-known,” the point being to make it modify “figure” as a single entity.

    Neither “second best” nor “best known” can be allowed to be parsed before what they modify is determined.

  4. It’s been a long, long time since I watched Scandal.

  5. BTW, it’s also Chuck Norris’ birthday today: http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0001569/ (66 years of roundhouse kicks!)

  6. Ron Hardin,

    Somehow I managed to understand his meaning, even without that extra hyphen. Speaking of which, do you ever contribute anything to this forum besides grammatical priggery?

  7. Stratford-upon-Avon’s second best-known public figure is dead.

    Either the link doesn’t work or the NYT has borrowed Reason’s squirrel for tonight’s duties. So… who is it?

  8. Xmas:

    It’s been a long, long time since I watched Scandal.

    Or listened to em… Back by popular demand, (Well, I got a couple more emails again) it’s the gratuitous New Wave link! This is from 1982. It’s Scandal!

    http://phan.org/psfc/pics/cover01.jpg

    They did some fine tunes and the volatile Patty Smyth was kinda cute! Until I comment again, it’s Goodbye to You (She was quite cute indeed in the bopping vid for that song)

  9. Ron and others,

    One of the most common fallacies these days seems to be the “best-adjective” hyphenation. The purpose of hyphenation under discussion here, as Ron was trying to get at, is to combine multiple words into a single entity referred to as a compound adjective. For example, we write “wire-framed glasses” because “wire-framed” acts as a single adjective conveying the information that the glasses are framed by wire. Wire is not functioning as a noun in the sentence, being instead part of an adjectival construction, so we hyphenate it with the rest of the construction to make that clear.

    Note, however, that it is never necessary to use a hyphen in this way to create a compound adjective if the first word is an adverb, the reason being that adverbs alone can modify any other part of speech. Adverbs do not become parts of compound adjectives, they simply modify adjectives that follow. So, for example, “heavily framed glasses” requires no hyphen; “heavily” modifies the adjective “framed,” which modifies the noun “glasses.” *

    Now, consider the commonly written “best-known.” Here, “best” is the superlative form of the adverb well. We would never think to hyphenate an adverb-adjective combination like this in most other circustances — “persistently-itchy” looks goofy compared to “persistently itchy” — but for some reason people have it in their heads to hyphenate “well” and its inflections.

    _

    All this considered, I would say it’s clear “second-best known” would have been the most preferable choice. The man in question was not the “best known;” rather, the degree to which he was known was “second-best.” He is the “second-best known.”

    _

    * This can be argued an alternative way. In a sense, making a compound adjective is in fact a way of turning non-adverbs into adverbs. Adverbs can modify adjectives — they can supply a how, in what way regarding an adjective. Similarly, in our example about “wire-framed glasses,” the “wire” gives a modification for the adjective “framed.” How are the glasses framed? With wire. Under this way of thinking, hyphenation is the means of turning a non-adverb into an adverb, and is unnecessary for words that are already adverbs (like “best”).

  10. Ron and others,

    One of the most common fallacies these days seems to be the “best-adjective” hyphenation. The purpose of hyphenation under discussion here, as Ron was trying to get at, is to combine multiple words into a single entity referred to as a compound adjective. For example, we write “wire-framed glasses” because “wire-framed” acts as a single adjective conveying the information that the glasses are framed by wire. Wire is not functioning as a noun in the sentence, being instead part of an adjectival construction, so we hyphenate it with the rest of the construction to make that clear.

    Note, however, that it is never necessary to use a hyphen in this way to create a compound adjective if the first word is an adverb, the reason being that adverbs alone can modify any other part of speech. Adverbs do not become parts of compound adjectives, they simply modify adjectives that follow. So, for example, “heavily framed glasses” requires no hyphen; “heavily” modifies the adjective “framed,” which modifies the noun “glasses.” *

    Now, consider the commonly written “best-known.” Here, “best” is the superlative form of the adverb well. We would never think to hyphenate an adverb-adjective combination like this in most other circustances — “persistently-itchy” looks goofy compared to “persistently itchy” — but for some reason people have it in their heads to hyphenate “well” and its inflections.

    _

    All this considered, I would say it’s clear “second-best known” would have been the most preferable choice. The man in question was not the “best known;” rather, the degree to which he was known was “second-best.” He is the “second-best known.”

    _

    * This can be argued an alternative way. In a sense, making a compound adjective is in fact a way of turning non-adverbs into adverbs. Adverbs can modify adjectives — they can supply a how, in what way regarding an adjective. Similarly, in our example about “wire-framed glasses,” the “wire” gives a modification for the adjective “framed.” How are the glasses framed? With wire. Under this way of thinking, hyphenation is the means of turning a non-adverb into an adverb, and is unnecessary for words that are already adverbs (like “best”).

  11. Apologies for the double-post, my browser was spazzing out.

    Oh shit, I ended my sentence with a preposition.*

    Well, I guess it’s a good time to mention that the rule about avoiding prepositions as something to end clauses with, like many rules, was lifted from Latin and applied to English for no reason other than people’s infatuation with Latin. There is no reason not to end sentences with prepositions. Perhaps the best way to demonstrate this is to ask if meaning has ever been compromised by ending with prepositions. I can hardly think of an example, and in such a case then go ahead, move your preposition around, but don’t go claiming there’s anything necessarily wrong with putting a preposition last.

    Rearranging things to eliminate terminal prepositions can be really akward too, and add extra words like “which,” something that can hardly be said to help language. For example, choosing between “the dog I gave the ball to” and “the dog to which I gave the ball” is pretty easy, I think.

    * I have realized that the sentence in question is actually a special case and ineligible for the discussion of where prepositions go, because “out” is part of the verb “spaz out.” I mean, the browser wasn’t spazzing out into somewhere, right? Another example of this would be if you “edge someone out.” (This example is even more clear-cut because we could never talk about simply “edging someone,” we have to edge them out. With spazzing, you can just spaz or you can really go for it and spaz out, but with spazzing and edging the “out” is part of the verb and is not acting as a preposition, telling us where it is we’re spazzing to [to where it is we’re spazzing — God damn that’s akward].)

  12. CJI It’s actually more interesting because both “second best” and “best known” have to be the original units at once.

    The construction “second best known” is constructed by analogy with “well/better/best known,” by then replacing “best” with “second best.”

    “Second best” itself however is not a comparative of “well,” which prohibits “second-best known;” and “second” can’t modify “best-known” (the sense changes), prohibiting that alternative.

    The solution is to put the construction out of action by hyphenating both, letting it settle its disagreements after the outer sentence is parsed. The hyphens serve to delay analysis where early analysis will lead to a garden path bad parsing.

  13. CJI: as I understand it, the better grammar books just say that you should make sure your preposition has an object. Thus, “the dog I gave the ball to” is fine, since “the dog” is the object of “to.” But “where the money is at” is wrong because where is an adverb, not a noun, and so can’t be the object of “at.” You should instead say “where the money is,” which sounds better and makes much more sense.

  14. Me flunk English? That’s unpossible!

  15. “Second-best-known” would be correct, but enough with the grammar lesson. Let’s go to photography class:
    Christine Keeler

  16. “‘Profumo’s fall marked the loss of innocence, the death of respect for the establishment and the explosion of sex into the very center of public life,’ The Evening Standard said.”

    I love to this kind of self-righteous blather. People trying to convince themselves this kind of crap hasn’t been going on for at least as long as the Tudors (I realize, of course, that this sentence is incomplete due to the weight of the main verb falling on a gerund and all– but I don’t care).

  17. The problem is that “best” is also an adjective, and it’s unclear from context which it’s supposed to be.

  18. Eric: I’d argue that it’s perfectly acceptable, just eliptical. As in, “[It’s nothing but] People trying…”

    🙂

  19. Men are men, no matter what. From this guy to Dick Morris, politicians being men always think they are different from everyone else and their hookers really love them and are not just doing it for the money. Ineveitably when the hooker sells them out to the media they are crushed that a woman who would sell her body would sell her secrets also. Men never change.

  20. The only previous knowledge I had of this incident was the line “British Politician Sex” from the Billy Joel song _We Didn’t Start the Fire_

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